Ballmer’s fuzzy PC math

July 12, 2011

Nobody doubts CEO Steve Ballmer’s passion and commitment to Microsoft’s cause. But occasionally his enthusiasm gets the better of him, especially when it comes to numbers.

Yesterday, kicking off Microsoft’s huge partner conference in Los Angeles, Ballmer made a stronger-than-usual assertion of Windows dominance over  competing operating systems, chiefly from the up-and-coming Apple.
“We’re selling a lot of Windows,” Ballmer trumpeted, on the day Microsoft announced it had sold more than 400 million Windows 7 licenses since launch in October 2009.

So far, indisputable.

Then he dropped the hammer on Apple – presumably, since he didn’t actually mention that dreaded name.
“Just in the last year alone, 350 million – 350 million — new PCs sold,” Ballmer bellowed. “That might compare with numbers from other guys that are in the 20 million range. Now, 20 is too much, but 350 —  last time I checked —  is a lot more than 20.”
The 350 million number checks out – that’s the number of personal computers sold in 2010, according to research firm Gartner. But that number includes about 14 million Macs and 6 million Linux-powered machines.
So a more accurate assessment – if indeed Ballmer was referencing Gartner’s 350 million figure – would be 330 million Windows PCs versus 20 million from the “other guys”.
That’s still dominance, by any measure. But it’s eroding, and the trends aren’t going in Microsoft’s direction. Overall PC sales dipped slightly in 2010 but Apple Mac sales are growing strongly. And these figures don’t even include the explosively popular iPad.
It’s not the first time Ballmer has caused a little confusion by throwing out a few figures and dates to a hungry media. Last month he caused a brief flurry by sort-of preannouncing earnings figures due in two weeks time.

In May, he said Windows 8 would be released next year, only to be hauled back in by press handlers, saying no such thing had been decided.
Despite the rallying cries and occasional exaggeration, Ballmer proved he still has humility and humor. Yesterday he acknowledged Microsoft’s position at the back of the pack in smartphones (currently running at 3.6 percent of the worldwide market).
“We’ve gone from very small to very small,” said Ballmer. “But it’s been a heck of a year.”

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